“My job is working with scripts and I just had a terrible time"

Posted: Monday 28 January 2019

As “loving but controlling” Ambridge matriarch Jill Archer, Patricia Greene will be familiar to anyone who’s tuned into The Archers on BBC Radio 4 over the last 61 years. The legendary actress has spoken out about the impact age-related macular degeneration (AMD) has made to her life and work.

Her first inkling that something wasn’t right was quite a shock. “I was driving down a hill and I saw a grey elephant crossing the road. Of course, it wasn’t an elephant – it was a hole in my sight. I didn’t see the elephant again, but after that I knew that I had to be careful. Now I’ve given up driving, and when I look at people’s faces I can see dark patches.”

At first she thought she needed some new glasses, but after trying several pairs it was clear something was wrong. Over the 25 years since her diagnosis her sight has continued to deteriorate. She says: “My job is working with scripts and I just had a terrible time. 18 months ago, during a recording, I wondered what the matter was as I couldn’t see properly at all. I said out loud ‘good gracious, what is happening to me, I can’t see the script.’ I asked them to change the lights in the studio to more of a blue light, as it was very yellow, but I realised it was getting worse.

With the help of strong specs, a magnifier and a friend who can drive her to the local arts centre, Patricia continues to get about, and to play the character that has made her famous. “When I go to work, they are very kind, and they give me my script in large font. My script is much fatter than everyone else’s. I nearly have to learn my lines now so I don’t miss anything.”

But what if the character that she knows so well had the same fate as her and started to lose her sight? “You get so caught up with your own character,” she says. “If she got AMD she wouldn’t cope very well. She couldn’t look after the bees, which would be very difficult for her.”

At the age of 87 Patricia says she is very grateful and feels extremely lucky to still be working. “There are not many people who could still say they’re working at my age,” she says. “The thing about having macular degeneration and being housebound is that getting out, going to work and playing around is just wonderful. Being around young people who are giggly is very good for me. When you have got this thing you’ve got to take yourself out and not stop.”

Tomorrow is another day

Having seen her mother deal with sight loss caused by AMD, Patricia had some idea of what to expect, but she tried not to think too much about it.

“My mother had it so it didn’t come as a complete shock. I am an optimistic sort of person. I do all the practical things like having a designated place for things in the bathroom. If you don’t you end up cleaning your teeth with face cream, which I have done. You get to know where to put things and keep them in the same place. I do lots of daft things, but you learn by error. I do think it’s funny.”

Talking about the outlook for the future, Patricia says things are positive: “I would hope for a cure for future generations. Enormous strides are being made in lots of ways, which lets us all hope.”

“Research is so important. I am hopeful now that people know about it, are concerned about it and are spending lots of money on it. It’s great for us sufferers to know it’s not just forgotten.”

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